Child Welfare Strategy Should Go Beyond Protecting to Preventing

Many read with deep concern an article that appeared in Los Angeles Times on June 30 entitled, “Child’s death illustrates L.A. County’s growing problem resolving backlog of abuse cases.” L.A. Times reporter Garrett Therolf reports that 57 days after opening an investigation into the allegations of a child, social workers had yet to determine if Joseph Byrd, 2, was at risk when he was pronounced dead on Saturday, June 26.

According to the article, the family had been investigated five times and of those, three cases were substantiated. In response to such cases, DCFS has taken measures to reinforce its oversight and support for vulnerable children and their families. In an e-mail to child welfare advocates, the Department of Children and Family Service states that they have shifted 396 additional staff within the Department since March, and 500 additional staff within the Department since a year ago, to work on these emergency investigations, bringing the total number of staff currently assigned to Emergency Response investigations to 992. What else can DCFS do ?

Some have suggested that just making more funding available is not the answer and indeed the current fiscal constraints may make adding resources impossible. Some have suggested that greater attempts to prioritize cases may be part of the solution, inevitably sacrificing preventative interventions in favor of greater monitoring.

There are no easy answers, but let me suggest a possible strategy. First of all, vilifying either DCFS or the failure of families is something we must avoid. Given the risks and the limited resources it is imperative that all parties satisfy their respective roles, yield to their respective area of expertise, eliminate duplication and join together as allies of these children and their families.

DCFS has its responsibility to monitor and protect; private social service agencies has its role as experienced and qualified providers of services; and both have the responsibility to partner with families to keep vulnerable children safe. Perhaps, clearly stated expectations and a streamlined service delivery system could go a long way to keep kids safe.

The strategy must go beyond protecting to preventing abuse and neglect. If there are any new resources, they should be designated to supporting families long before a pattern of abuse and neglect takes hold.

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